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Panelists discuss immigration issues at forum

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Autumn Simon
Staff Writer

A panel of guest speakers discussed its perspectives on immigration reform, immigration effects throughout history, common misconceptions about immigrants and the media’s negative portrayal of immigrants at “The Win-Win Situation: An Immigration Discussion Forum” Dec. 1 in the Campus Center Ballroom A.

The forum was organized by a group of senior Honors Program students as their senior project.

Business administration major Cody Luk, math major Elizabeth Craig, math major Sasha Webb and child development major Jamie Sato hosted the discussion forum on immigration issues.

“I feel like we need change,” Webb said. “I think change comes from starting a discussion about immigration using accurate facts and challenging where our facts are coming from. We need to work on starting the discussion with our family, our university and our community.”

The panelists included Carolyn Bekhor, associate professor of legal studies, Zandra Wagoner, University chaplain and assistant professor of philosophy and religion, Gerardo Cuevas, senior history major and Latino Student Forum director of finance, and Mariela Martinez, junior political science major, ULV College Democrats president and Model United Nations vice president.

The panelists expressed opinions on the negative feelings about immigration and what can be done to change the prejudices toward immigrants.

“I felt like it was a good community event to have,” Cuevas said. “We brought a lot of attention to a pressing issue and it is good to talk about it in our community.”

“In the forum, we discussed how we, as a campus community, want to get involved. A lot of students believe we should make more forums like this and have help shaping that conversation,” he said.

Each panelist spoke based on his or her educational background ­– religion, law, political science and history.

As immigration is a continuing issue, the panel wanted to find ways to discuss it in an educational manner without common misconceptions and prejudices disrupting the conversation.

“Immigration is an issue because it shows that you care about your nation, of other people, of why they are coming here and why we should bring them in,” Martinez said.

“These are legitimate questions we all should really be asking, but I think in asking these questions, we should also be aware of the diverse answers, and we should be willing to answer and hear the diverse answers that are offered.”

One of the first topics discussed at the panel was the misconceptions of immigrants.

Wagner explained that in religion, there was always a division known as East and West.

Today, those who come to America are considered “dehumanized others” and are treated differently and poorly.

The most common misconceptions about immigrants are that take jobs away, harm the economy by not paying taxes and are uneducated, and the panelists said these are not true.

The panel also discussed how the media negatively portrays immigrants. The most significant issue is that the term “illegal” is synonymous with immigrants rather than the proper term “undocumented.”

“From a law point of view, the term ‘illegal’ means a crime, and it leaks into people by calling them criminals,” Bekhor said.

A topic that got a lot of attention was the benefits of having immigrants in our society. The panelists said immigrants bring skills, new ideas and different points of view.

Cuevas brought up that there has been a history of immigrants coming to America and doing the dirty work that Americans do not want to do.

Much of the current debate on immigration is fueled by misconceptions that are fed to the public by public figures such as Donald Trump.

The panelists stressed that, if prejudices are put aside and people question the source of these misconceptions, they can understand the positive impacts immigrants make.

“We have forgotten that this is a land of immigrants, and this is something we should not be offended or opposed to it,” Martinez said.

Autumn Simon can be reached at autumn.simon@laverne.edu.

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